Our Pentecostal friends believe that (the Mark 16) miracle-working abilities continue even to this day. And some of them, particularly in the region of the southern Appalachian mountains, practice “snake handling” in their religious services. The movement had its origin in about 1910 and has been the subject of numerous studies and television specials.
“Punkin” Brown was one of the leading practitioners of this movement. But not anymore. He is dead at the age of thirty-four. Brown, the father of five children, was handling a three-foot timber rattler during one of his services on Saturday, October 3, 1998. The snake bit him on the finger, and within ten minutes he was dead.
This tragedy is compounded by the fact that Brown was a widower. His wife, Melinda, died three years earlier when she was bitten by a rattler in the “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church” in Middlesboro, Kentucky. Now, five children have neither a mom nor dad—simply because their parents, who obviously were quite sincere, believed the false doctrine that miracles (e.g., taking up serpents) still prevail today.
Compassionate hearts grieve for this family. In spite of that, a teacher of truth has the obligation to highlight the utter fanaticism characteristic of these people. Why can’t folks see the error in this deadly practice?
According to newspaper accounts, one fang of the snake pierced Brown’s finger. Within moments he toppled over. Why was he so affected? Because he did not have the “take-up-serpents” sign.
Interestingly, one of the first reactions of someone in the congregation was to call 911. Why did they not just pray for him, and heal the gentleman? “Healing” is listed in the same passage that mentions taking up serpents. The answer is all too obvious. They did not have that power either. Moreover, once Mr. Brown expired, why did not someone in the congregation raise him from the dead? Raising the dead was also a first-century sign (see Matthew 10:8; Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-10). They could not raise the victim from the dead!
As sad as this episode is, it illustrates how utterly deceived a person can be. Example after example of fatalities in connection with these snake-handling services can be cited, yet these poor people continue to practice this bizarre religion. Some folks, under the sway of religious dogma, appear to lose the basic ability to reason correctly.
Too, this case graphically illustrates the fact that sincerity in religion doesn’t count for anything—unless it is coupled with truth. Mr. and Mrs. Brown were obviously sincere, but they were wrong. Now they are dead—dead wrong!